Lukashenko diverts Ryanair flight, arrests opposition journalist

The founder of the opposition Telegram channel Nexta, Roman Protasevich, has been detained in Minsk. Protasevich was on board a Ryanair flight en route from Athens to Vilnius. The plane had to land at the national airport in Minsk after receiving a report that there was an explosive device on board.

On Lukashenko's order, a fighter jet was scrambled to escort the passenger plane with Protasevich on board, reports the pro-government Belarusian Telegram channel "Pool of the First." Lukashenko personally ordered the military to send the fighter and land the plane, Lukashenko’s press service repots.

According to Nexta, before the flight, Protasevich noticed that he was followed.

Passengers of the plane were sent to the airport for re-examination, during which Protasevich was detained.

The Minsk airport authorities said that the plane landed after a bomb was reported on board. The permission to land was allegedly requested by the pilots themselves.

The head of communications at Vilnius International Airport said there was an altercation between a crew member and a passenger. "As far as I know, there was a conflict between a crew member and a passenger. The plane has now successfully landed. We don't have any other official information," she said.

Meanwhile, according to Nexta, during the flight, KGB officers staged a fight with the crew and said that there was an explosive device on board. Therefore, the crew had to request an emergency landing.

"The fact that today, at the direction of military dictator Alexander Lukashenko, a Ryanair civilian plane was forced to land in Belarus with the use of the Belarusian air force is further evidence that international law is being violated in Belarus and the lives and health of foreign and Belarusian citizens are being endangered. This incident cannot be called anything other than military piracy and an international terrorist act," said Pavel Latushko, one of the leaders of the democratic movement of Belarus.

Nexta actively covers the protests in Belarus.

Belarus authorities recognize, Protasevich and another NEXTA founder, Stepan Putilo, as terrorists. They could face the death penalty.

Protasevich has also been charged with organizing mass riots.

Earlier, Lukashenko’s regime called on Warsaw to extradite Putilo and Protasevich.

Exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said Protasevich is facing a death penalty in Belarus.

Lithuania's president called the decision to target a civilian aircraft "unprecedented" and "abhorrent."

"Unprecedented event! A civilian passenger plane flying to Vilnius was forcibly landed in Minsk," President Gitanas Nauseda wrote on Twitter.

"[Belarus] regime is behind the abhorrent action. I demand to free Roman Protasevic urgently!", Nauseda  said.

  Lukashenko, NEXTA, Belarus